In 1882, the merchant Enoch Pratt, wishing to make a gift to his adopted city which would benefit all of her citizens, gave Baltimore $1,058,000 to establish a public library.
The original building fronted on Mulberry Street. Designed by the Baltimore architect Charles Carson, it opened in 1886. By the late 1820's, the patrons and volumes had outgrown the building. The present structure, completed in 1933, represented a major departure from the tradition of building libraries with monumental entrances atop long, intimidating flights of stairs. The building was designed by Clyde and Nelson Fritz with consulting architects E.L. Tilton and A.M. Githens under the supervision of the Library Director Joseph Wheeler. Wheeler envisioned the library as a publicly owned "department store business" in which taxpayers invested money and from which they expected a return. To make the library approachable and inviting, the building was designed with a street-level entrance and twelve display windows with exhibits the passing public can see at a glance.
The design of the Pratt has been borrowed extensively in this country and abroad.